And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food.” (Genesis 1:29)
And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:7)
This seems to be a rather straightforward contradiction. God said to eat and not to eat; however, there are several possible solutions that easily reveal this is not a contradiction.
One possibility is revealed by reading these two verses more carefully. There are qualifying terms in Genesis 1:29 that show the herbs and fruit must produce seeds. So potentially, there were trees and herbs that did not produce seed and were off-limits.
Consider for a moment that some plants reproduce by other means—shoots, sprouts, and so on. Even some “fruited” vegetation use these other means of spreading in addition to seeds. Raspberries, for example, lean over and strike the ground, and roots develop for the next year’s plants. Strawberries send out shoots that also take root. But they still reproduce via fruit and seed, so they would have been allowed.
There are other potential solutions that could eliminate this alleged contradiction.
The fruit of figs have seeds, so they too would be included as edible food per Genesis 1:29, and indeed, figs were found in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:7). So consider for a moment how this alleged contradiction “bears no fruit” if the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil had no seed in it. This would resolve the proposed contradiction.
But there are other potential solutions that could eliminate this alleged contradiction. The Lord could have been speaking of the fruit on the face of the whole earth beyond the special and unique Garden of Eden. This would make sense considering there were special instructions given to Adam regarding what was edible in the Garden and what was not. In other words, they may have been complementary commands given for two different places.
This information would prove rather useful had they traveled beyond the borders of the Garden for expedition of potential living space for their descendants. Remember, they were commanded to be fruitful and fill the earth in Genesis 1:28. So knowing that edible food was ready for them beyond the Garden would only make filling the earth that much easier.
Probably the simplest explanation is that the command about not eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil was given first and served as an exception clause. Although it appears in the Bible in Genesis 2:17, this instruction was delivered prior to the creation of Eve. In Genesis 1, God’s instruction about food occurred after the creation of Eve, so Adam was already fully aware of the exception.
These types of exceptions appear elsewhere in Scripture. For example, Jesus gave an exception in Matthew 5:32 and Matthew 19:9 regarding divorce. So assuming that giving an exception clause is without warrant would be inaccurate. The exception clause simply shows that God revealed more information about a particular subject at the necessary time.
Any of these possibilities indicate that this alleged contradiction can be “pruned from the tree.” Once again, the Bible easily withstands the attack of the skeptic.